Case Study: How to Choose the Best Collaboration Tool for a Mobile Workforce

Sales manager works with a collaboration app for iPad.

Companies have increasingly turned to cloud-based storage services for saving, updating and disseminating important files, both for internal and client-facing purposes. 

This technology has made collaboration and faster than ever before. The proliferation of collaboration tools now available on mobile devices has made the convenience and immediacy of cloud storage available to customer facing teams in the field, as well as to other mobile professionals.

Unfortunately, there are a number of problems inherent with many of these collaboration tools. Mobile apps may not always sync up properly. Files shared with coworkers or prospective customers may not always be up to date. Many of the software collaboration solutions are technically complicated, requiring help from busy IT professionals to deploy, manage and maintain. Plus, the unbranded displays typical of these tools look less than professional and will likely fail to impress during client-facing presentations.

This white paper details many of the problems inherent with mobile collaboration tools. It also discusses must-have features that companies should look for in a cloud-based, mobile collaboration software. Finally, this paper describes an ideal solution that helps maximize the potential benefits of mobility while avoiding the associated problems inhibiting productivity.

 

How Does Your Organization Hang Together?

Partnership. Working together. Teamwork. There are many different terms that can be used to describe the process of harmonizing the actions of individuals to accomplish organizational goals. But no matter the term used to describe the process of collaboration, its benefits are indisputable.

Throughout history it has been generally acknowledged that a group of individuals working together can accomplish more than the sum of the individuals working separately. In perilous times, collaboration has often been viewed as the key to survival, as Benjamin Franklin wryly noted: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Collaboration is just as important for modern business enterprises as it was for Franklin and his compatriots. Though employees today need not fear the hangman’s noose, failure to efficiently work together can result in the death of productivity — and may ultimately spell the demise of an enterprise. At the very least, ineffective and inefficient team work among workers provides competitors with a golden opportunity to seize a crucial marketplace advantage. But providing a company culture in which collaboration thrives is a far more complex proposition than it once was. And technology is to blame.

 

Not so long ago, workers at the same office tended to be within close physical proximity. Teaming up with a coworker might have been as simple as turning to an adjacent cubicle, or stepping across the hall to a neighboring office. But working together can no longer be driven by physical proximity.

Thanks to technology, coworkers that once might have worked within arm’s reach of one another are now just as likely to be located on opposite sides of the planet. A recent Gallup survey, in fact, found that nearly half of all Americans now work remotely at least part of the time — and that percentage rises significantly with each passing year.

While a distributed workforce provides many advantages to workers and the organizations that employ them, it also presents some problems. Most notable among those problems, perhaps, is the difficulty of assuring that teamwork among geographically scattered coworkers is not negatively impacted.

But though technology has enabled the mobile workforce that threatens to diminish the benefits of collaboration, technology also provides a solution to that problem. Many collaboration tools and platforms have been devised to aid in connecting mobile workforces.

With the selection of the right resource, an enterprise workforce can collaborate more effectively and efficiently than ever before, no matter their geographic spread.

However, businesses that are searching for such a tool must evaluate candidates carefully. Enabling and enhancing collaboration among today’s mobile, cloud-dependent workforce is a serious challenge. Any tool deployed for that purpose must avoid common problems to this type of solution while providing a range of essential features.

Following is a summary of those common problems, along with the features that should be considered must-have offerings for collaboration-enhancing tools.

 

Problems to Avoid in a Collaboration Tool 

A software designed to serve a mobile workforce can enable previously unobtainable efficiencies of collaboration — even among workers who might never meet face-to-face. But many such collaboration tools stumble badly and do not address poignant pain points. When that happens, the software is often found to be deficient in two key areas: usability and look- and-feel.

The most common problems with usability include the following:

 

Complicated Tech

All collaboration tools are technically advanced pieces of software. Unfortunately, many also demand a high level of technical sophistication from users. The more complex the tool is from the user’s perspective, the less value it can provide to a large range of users.

One example is the need to use a third-party integration point when downloading content to an endpoint device, a flaw that many collaboration apps share. This significantly complicates the user experience and greatly amplifies the likelihood that something will go wrong in the process of downloading content, requiring the user to seek help from the IT department.

The best collaboration tools provides technological sophistication without requiring users to be IT experts.

 

Data Doubts

We live in a data-driven world. Within all organizations, data is now acquired, stored, modified and disseminated with greater speed than at any time in history. This complicates the process of collaboration — not only for associates within an organization, but also for those responsible for creating and fostering inter-organizational teamwork.

Sales reps, for example, are routinely charged with representing an organization through presentations. By their very nature, presentations are data-driven. But all too often, sales reps rely on devices (such as iPads) and collaboration tools that provide little confidence that the organizational data they are sharing is up-to-date.

 

Search Shortcomings

Organizational dependence on data highlights another common issue: the difficulty of finding the right data at the right time. At its core, after all, collaboration revolves around the sharing of data.

But data that cannot be found cannot be shared and documents that cannot be searched for keywords limit productivity. With many solutions, the provided search features often result in long, frustrating and sometimes fruitless queries— particularly when key identifiers are forgotten or misplaced.

 

Storage Struggles

As noted above, companies are accumulating data at unprecedented rates and volumes. All of that information must be stored, and organizations utilize many resources to that end. For most enterprises, the cloud has become a key repository for data storage. Typically, a menagerie of storage apps is used to shuttle data to and from the cloud.

This leads to a stored clutter of files and file types on the cloud that users must negotiate to find relevant information. Many solutions do little to aid users in navigating that cloud clutter, and some solutions may even contribute to the confusion.

 

Interface Imperfections

Solutions designed to aid and facilitate collaboration among mobile workers should be intuitive by design, and provide an easy-to-use interface on all devices. Unfortunately, poor user experiences are all too common. For instance, users often have difficulty navigating many tools due to the small buttons designed into the interface — a simple flaw that can be mightily frustrating for users.

 

There are also a couple of issues with the look-and-feel of those tools which impacts their effectiveness and frustrates users.

One such look-and-feel problem is linked to the cloud storage glitches referenced above. When users reference or download information from the company’s cloud storage system, they are often required to painstakingly navigate through a bewildering display of identical manila folder icons, click after click, to locate a file.

It’s a tedious, time-consuming, and for many users, infuriating process. The frustration levels are then compounded for mobile app users as a result of the small-button problem noted above.

Another common look-and-feel problem results from the lack of customization options inherent with many collaboration tools. It is commonplace, for example, for applications to provide no means of displaying organizational logos or symbols that serve to brand the app, allowing a customized look specific to the organization.

While it may seem a small thing, the ability to tailor a solution’s look can enhance its appeal to internal users, and convey an enhanced sense of professionalism to external parties — during sales presentations, for example.

 

Features to Seek in a best Collaboration Tool – not only for iPads

Choosing the right tool certainly involves avoiding the problems and pitfalls listed above. But it also requires ensuring the selected solution will provide must-have features. These provide the key capabilities and usability necessary to foster collaboration in a mobile workforce.

The must-have features for best collaboration tools include the following:

 

Ease of Use

Team members should be able to easily load and toggle between content on their device without having to switch from one app to another.

The solution should also be customizable, enabling companies to brand the application interface, marketing collateral and other customer-facing output.

Ease of use should be enhanced with sophisticated search features. A full-text search engine should provide users with the ability to navigate file text as well as file names.

The solution should also provide users the flexibility to organize and access files on the application without connection to a corporate network. For example, consider a face-to-face client meeting where they are ready to close the deal. Rather than waiting to get back to the office or connect to a network, forms and contracts can be filled out and signed while on-location, whether you are online or offline.

 

Offline Capability

Maintaining connectivity can sometimes be an issue, particularly for associates that travel frequently. A collaboration software should continue to provide full functionality — including the ability to generate crucial business documents — even when connectivity is temporarily lost. And the tool should automatically update in real time once online again.

Offline capability is particularly crucial for certain industry verticals. For companies in the pharmaceutical or financial industries, for example, offline capability addresses major document compliance issues associated with regulatory requirements and government mandates. The offline functionality of a collaboration tool can help ensure uninterrupted adherence to mandated requirements and avoid punitive enforcement actions.

 

IT-Independent

Many collaboration tools require the assistance of IT personnel, both in the installation of the solution and with ongoing management. Ironically, relying on IT stifles the very collaboration capabilities that the software is intended to enhance. Employees, after all, are not collaborating with one another when they are waiting for IT to perform a task. Therefore, it’s imperative that a solution be designed to enable users to install and manage the tool without requiring the expertise of IT personnel — a capability that’s likely to be appreciated by IT every bit as much as any users of the application!

A tool that does not require installation or management by an IT team offers many obvious advantages. Among the most important of these advantages, perhaps, is the convenience of permitting a single team within an organization to purchase a collaboration software and evaluate whether it fulfills their needs. Since the team can install and manage the tool without IT support, exploring the benefits of the resource can be a simplified process conducted at the team’s convenience. There’s no need to generate paper trails for IT and no need to adjust the team’s schedule to IT’s availability.

Any software that offers true IT independence must, of necessity, provide certain ancillary features that support the safe and efficient management of the solution without tech support.

For example, an IT-independent collaboration tool should be capable of piggybacking off of the existing security protections and protocols that have already been put in place. The software should be able to adopt existing organizational security protections without requiring any external integration — which, of course, would likely involve IT.

Avoiding dependence on IT also requires that the solution take advantage of an organization’s existing cloud storage investment such as Sharepoint, Box.com, OneDrive, Salesforce, or Google Drive. The selected software should be capable of leveraging the organization’s cloud storage solution(s) without requiring any additional backend work and without necessitating the use of third-party tools.

Finally, an IT-independent collaboration software should support an undemanding setup process. A team should be able to download the tool, integrate it with existing resources, and put the software to work almost immediately. The initial setup should be no more involved than simply adding a file to the organization’s existing cloud storage solution(s). The tool should automatically incorporate changes in real time.

 

Analytics

Enhancing teamwork requires more than simply providing a platform for interaction. It also requires helping team members to learn what works and what doesn’t. Analytics provides those insights. The best collaboration tools provide embedded analytics capabilities that deliver those findings easily and instantaneously.

Whether team members are interacting with each other, clients or prospective buyers, the solution-provided analytics can serve as a feedback loop of sorts, enabling the constant enhancement of procedures, processes and presentations that can provide the organization with a competitive edge.

 

Expanded Functionalities

While a collaboration software that provides all the above features will be a capable tool, the best solutions provide a range of supplementary features to further boost the tool’s functionality and usability. These added attributes might be thought of as elevating a collaboration tool to a truly elite status — both in comparison to competing solutions and in terms of the comprehensive capabilities provided to users.

 

The following are among the most important of these additional features:

  • The ability to sign and send contracts
  • The ability to log interactions and activities in the organization’s chosen CRM
  • A dynamic presentation mode that supports all formats of documentation
  • PDF annotation capability
  • Secure single sign-on support

 

The Best Collaboration iPad App for All Industry Verticals

Crescendo facilitates collaboration among the predominate mobile workforces. Crescendo by Sependa avoids the shortcomings that commonly plague many collaboration tools and provides the full range of desired features as described in this paper. Accordingly, Crescendo serves as far more than a simple tool for sharing and presenting cloud-stored documents. Crescendo, in fact, might be considered the single most efficient and effective tool for enhancing collaboration between mobile professionals, their clients and prospects.

And Crescendo’s flexibility makes it equally effective for all industry verticals. Consider the following use case examples for two industry verticals that rely heavily on the currency of information in customer-facing presentations:

 

Crescendo in Pharma: Pharmaceutical marketers routinely use literature that promotes existing drugs or provides details about drugs under development. This information changes frequently. Quite often, as a result of company policy changes or updates to state or federal law, certain language adjustments are required on short notice. Blocks of text may have to be added, removed or modified. Any such change can impact hundreds of documents, presentations and other customer- facing collateral.

The resulting problems can certainly impact the effectiveness of presentations. But when pharmaceutical companies share or distribute documents that are no longer current, legal ramifications can also result.Crescendo helps by assuring that documents are always kept up to date.

 

Crescendo in Retail: Retail organizations typically support multiple branches in many locations, often encompassing a broad geographic range. Typically, not every item offered for sale by a retail organization is available at every store location. As a result, customers may be required to go online to view items that are not physically on display at their location. It’s a clunky, inelegant solution.

 

Crescendo can provide a superior alternative when used as a branded company catalog. In-store customers can be handed an iPad and use Crescendo to “walk” through the catalog. It’s a relatively inexpensive, customer-friendly software that delivers up-to-date information about an organization’s product offerings.

As workforces become ever more mobile and distributed, a tool that is designed to facilitate collaboration in a mobile environment will be a crucial component for success in any business enterprise. To learn more about how Crescendo can facilitate collaboration within your organization, contact us today.

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